“Rogue One” Storms Box Office Despite Ethical Controversy

By: Carter Caldwell

As 2016 closes, it is impossible to imagine that Walt Disney Studios is not satisfied with their performance for the year, having released the four highest grossing films, as well as Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, which is currently the seventh highest grossing film of the year.  The film, which marks the most recent addition to the Star Wars franchise, is the story of Jyn Erso (a former criminal) and a band of Rebels, who attempt to steal plans for the Death Star so that they may avert the damage it was created to cause.  In true Star Wars fashion, the film heavily features Jyn Erso’s relationship with her father, and like Episode VII, also stars a diverse cast of characters.  The film contains cameos from veteran Star Wars characters C-3PO, R2-D2, and Darth Vader, as well as Bail Organa and Mon Mothma. However, the appearances of two prominent characters caused controversy.

The film came under fire from some news outlets for its use of computer-generated imagery (CGI) to “revive” actors Peter Cushing and Carrie Fisher (Cushing died in 1994, while Carrie Fisher died 11 days after the film’s release). Both characters were recreated using a stand-in and computer effects, with Tarkin appearing throughout the film and Leia appearing at the very end. Cushing portrayed Death Star commander Grand Moff Tarkin in Star Wars IV, and the character again cameoed in Star Wars III, played by another actor with Cushing’s likeness achieved via prosthetics. Fisher, on the other hand, played Princess (later General) Leia Organa in the original Star Wars trilogy and in the 2015 film The Force Awakens.

Critics of the technique questioned its legality and ethics, as Cushing himself never expected his likeness to be digitally recreated.  However, Lucasfilm did obtain permission from both Cushing’s estate and Carrie Fisher herself.  The use of computer-generated characters was admonished for being distracting and taking away from the plot of the film, with Leia’s likeness especially being singled out as “disturbing.”  These criticisms hit hard because of the amount of money Lucasfilm spent to recreate the characters, and in Leia’s case, because of the hopeful emotion she was intended to inspire.  The question now is who owns the likeness of actors who have passed: their families or the studios that produced the films featuring their characters?

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